History of Attorneys in Greenfield - May 2013

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Would you think that attorneys played an important role in the lives of the first settlers in Hancock County and Greenfield? When settlers first came to Greenfield, they were confronted with three great tasks – to clear away the forest, to drain the lands and to build roads for traveling. Our lawyers may not have had much to do with physical clearing away of the forest, but the public will probably never appreciate just how much they have had to do with drainage and road building. Many swamps would have continued to harbor the germs of disease; many streams would have remained stagnant, and acres of our garden land would have remained wasted, had not doubtful and discouraged farmers found our law offices real sources of inspiration in the consideration of such matters. History shows that local attorneys have always encouraged road building. Without attorneys using the machinery of the courts when needed, roads would have never been able to be developed.

Many men of this county have raised their right hand and taken the oath to "support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Indiana, and faithfully and honestly to discharge the duties of an attorney at the bar of this court."

Organization of the courts

The Hancock circuit court was organized on March 24, 1828, at the house of Samuel B. Jackson. This house was a log home located on East US 40 on the south side of the road at the bottom of the Brandywine. Present at the meeting were Bethuel F. Morris, president of the fifth judicial circuit, Jacob Jones and James B. Stephens, associate judges, Lewis Tyner, clerk, John Foster, sheriff and James Whitcomb, prosecutor. This James Whitcomb listed is not the famous Hoosier Poet of this town. This Mr. Whitcomb was a prosecuting attorney and would later become governor of Indiana and is the man who James Whitcomb Riley would be named after.

Four attorneys were admitted to practice on that day, Calvin Fletcher, Hervey Gregg, Marinus Willett and Charles H. Verder. During the first few years the court held two sessions annually.

The September term of 1828 and the March terms of 1829 were also held at the residence of Samuel B. Jackson. The first rules governing the practice at the bar of the court were adopted at Jackson's residence on March 19, 1829.

The courts convened in the county courthouse in Greenfield for the first time on Thursday, September 17, 1829.

When the courts first were established a majority of the attorneys that served this area were from Indianapolis. Sometimes they would come from Noblesville, Shelbyville, Richmond and Muncie. "Circuit Riders" followed the judge from court to court in the judicial circuit. Calvin Fletcher, Ovid Butler and the Browns were Indianapolis attorneys. James B. Ray and Abram Hammond, both of Indianapolis, transacted quite a large amount of legal business before the court in its early history. Both of these men later became governor of Indiana.

Christian Nave and William Quarles are listed in many cases. Quarles, especially, attended many terms of the court AND was from Indianapolis.

The first grand jury was George W. Hinton, James McKinsey, Benjamin Gordon, Meredith Gusney, Jeremiah Meek, Samuel Thompson, Robert Snodgrass, David Templeton, Ladock Stephenson, Richard Guymon, Jacob Tague, Moses McCall, Samuel Martin, Basil Meek, Owen Griffith and John Osborn. They were described as twelve sturdy men, of good judgment and clean characters. Meredith Gosney was appointed foreman.

Court Houses

In the winter of 1829-30 the commissioners contracted with Amos Dickerson and John Hays to build a two-story brick court house and to be located on the public square, which is the location of the current court house. The cost was $3,000. Court was held in this building until 1851 at which time it was torn down for the construction of the second courthouse.

During the time of construction of the second courthouse the courts were first moved to the Methodist Church building located on the west side of South State Street, current location of the Veterans Memorial. Courts were held there until 1853 when they were moved to the old Seminary building, which was located on Pennsylvania Street, current location of the city parking lot. The court remained there until June of 1855. At that time they were moved to the Greenfield Christian Church, which at that time was located on American Legion Place on the courthouse square. The courts remained there until the new courthouse was completed.

The second courthouse began construction in late 1854 and was constructed by Nathan Crawford. The building was a brick two-story structure that cost $14,400. The courts occupied the second floor and the county offices on the first floor. Construction was completed in early 1856. Every morning when court was called to session the bell in the tower would be rung.

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2nd Court House

Our current courthouse was designed by architects Wing and Mahurin and construction began in 1895 at the cost of $250,000. This stone structure with its Roman arches give it a Romanesque Revival style. Carved stone grotesques in the form of monkeys, dogs and other creatures keep watch over all who enter. The interior of the courthouse resembles a Gothic cathedral with its ribbed ceiling, fan vaulting, and plaster cherubs. It has 40 total rooms

The laying of the cornerstone took place on September 22, 1896. This current courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

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Current 1896 Courthouse

Greenfield Attorneys

Thomas D. Walpole was the first resident attorney who grew into prominence. He was born in Zanesville, Ohio on March 20, 1816 and moved to Indianapolis in 1822. He came to Greenfield in 1834. In 1836 he was elected to the Indiana Legislature. In 1840 he was elected into the State Senate. He married Esther Bryan of Centerville in 1840. In 1842 he became President of the Senate taking over the vacated seat from Samuel Hall. He was elected again to the Senate in 1847 and served until 1850. He was a member of the Whig party until 1852 when he switched to the Democratic Party. During this time he focused on his law practice. In 1860 he moved his family to Indianapolis where he lived till his death in 1863. He had four children.

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Thomas D. Walpole

Bethuel F. Morris was elected the as the first circuit court judge in 1828.

George W. Julian lived in Greenfield for several years. He came from Wayne County and later returned to that county. He was a prominent attorney and served a term in Congress.

D.M.C. Lane name appears in the record frequently for several years, he does not seem to have attained any special distinction while as a member of the bar.

James Rutherford was county school examiner, clerk of the court and practicing attorney. He was said to have been a very scholarly man, but he became dissipated and his life was cut short.

Reuben A. Riley was a practitioner for almost half a century. He was circuit prosecutor in 1844. He and Rutherford were partners for a short time around 1848. Several younger men read law in his office, and later he and William R. Hough were partners for a time. Mr. Riley was not only an able, conscientious lawyer, but he took a general interest in public affairs. Some of his poems and speeches that still remain in print show him to have been gifted along those lines. He also served as Captain in the Civil War, and was the father of James Whitcomb Riley

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Rueben Riley

David S. Gooding was a successful trial lawyer, but he gave a great deal of attention to politics. He possessed a good presence, was an able speaker, and for a time had a remarkable influence in the county. He was born on January 20, 1824 in Fleming County, Kentucky. He moved to Greenfield in the late 1880's. He studied at Asbury University and received his law license in 1845. In 1847 he was elected to the State Legislature. In 1848 he was elected Circuit Court Judge. In 1851 he was elected as Prosecuting Attorney for the Indianapolis Judicial Court. In 1856 he was elected State Senator. In 1861 he was elected as Common Plea Judge. He volunteered for the Union Army during the Civil War in 1863. He was nominated by President Lincoln in 1864 for U.S. Judgeship in New Mexico, but Gooding rejected the request. In 1867 he was admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court. From 1866 to 1869 he was appointed by President Johnson as US Marshall for the District of Columbia. After that term he returned to Greenfield to practice law. He ended his political career to become the editor of the Hancock County Democrat Newspaper.

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David S. Gooding

William R. Hough was a senior member of the law firm of Hough & Cook of Greenfield. He was born in Williamsburg, Indiana on October 8, 1833. He began working in the law office of Reuben Riley. He was appointed twice to school examiner. In 1860 he was elected district attorney. He married in 1862. In 1872 he was elected State Senator.

Assistants to School Examiners

In the early history lawyers held a prominent place in the educational work of the county. They were frequently appointed to examine teachers as to their fitness and qualifications. Thomas D. Walpole was appointed by the circuit court in 1842. Township examiners were appointed in 1845, but in 1850 the circuit court again appointed an attorney, Reuben Riley. Following the enactment of the County Examiner's Law, the lawyers as "examiner:" James Rutherford, 1853; R. A. Riley, 1856; James L. Mason, 1857; William R. Hough; James L. Mason and David VanLaningham, 1859; William R. Hough, 1860; James A. New, 1871.

Attorneys in Politics

Attorneys have always taken an interest in politics. Thomas D. Walpoles, R.A. Riley and David S. Gooding were among the first to become established in the county.

William R. Hough was a Republican in the early 1870's when he served two terms in the state senate. Lemuel W. Gooding was a Republican and was chairman of the county central committee in 1867-68. Montgomery Marsh was active in the Democrat party and held several offices. Charles G. Offutt, Ephraim Marsh, Stokes Jackson and Judge Felt all were active within the Democrat party.

Law Library

The collection of books for the use by attorneys began being collected in the 1880's. The library occupied what started out as a shelf and later grew to a complete room. In 1882, Judge Forkner appointed James A. New, Israel P. Poulson and Augustus W. Hough to a committee that would oversee the purchases of books for the library. In particular the Indiana and New York Reports.

Additional books were purchased over the years by Bowen-Merrill Company, the National Reporter System, Federal Reports, Lawyers Reports Annotated, and The Centennial Digest, The Decennial Digest and Encyclopedias and others as they became published.


Cases

So what kind of legal matters would attorneys have to deal with other than settling land disputes over new roads and drainage ditches?

There were criminal cases that included charges of assault and battery, affrays, gaming and gambling. The grand jury on September 18, 1829, returned three indictments for assault and battery and five for affray. Twelve indictments were returned for gambling on February 25, 1838. On several occasions officers were charged with neglect of the duties of their office, and on September 1, 1830, the first divorce was granted.

While little criminal cases took a part of the time of each term, there were very few lesser civil actions on notes, contracts, debt, assumpsit, etc. There were very few damage suits; in fact, a suit for the recovery of as much as five hundred dollars was not brought until after the court had been organized for several years.

Land titles were not litigated to any extent until the 1850's. In the settlement of estates most of time land was not sold simply transferred to other members of the party who assumed the ownership. Estate land disputes became more ruminate around the Civil War period.

Also at the time of the Civil War more and more improvements to roads and drainage ways took place. Drainage companies were organized in all parts of the county for the construction of large outlets. Turnpike companies were also organized for the improvement of the principal highways. These lines of general improvements gave rise to numerous questions, and became fruitful sources of litigation for several years. Drainage, in fact, has ever since that time remained an important part of the practice. Technological advances in construction equipment and materials pushed the construction of large open drains and legal work was necessary to complete the drains. This legal work continues today on these very issues.

Before the development of the banking system, attorneys would be called upon to handle collection disputes. Once banks became more prominent collections fell to them to handle.

As the city developed so did the number of attorneys that have held office in this city. All serving the oath they took. To list all of them would be too long of a list. When thinking of our first settlers you wouldn't think at first that attorneys would have played such an important role in establishing our community. But as history shows we could not have developed without their legal services.

 

By Greg Roland

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